Aftermarket or No Market?

Last month I asked how Dodge can claim it has rediscovered the “performance” aspect of Dodge DNA if it locks us and all tuners out of the engine’s computer. Well, I’m not the only one worried and appalled by this. I’ve been talking with some CEOs of aftermarket performance companies, both on and off the record, and they’re all wondering if Mopar has lost its collective mind.

Let’s start with Kim Pendergast, CEO of Magnuson Superchargers. I got to speak with her at the SEMA show in Las Vegas last month.

“Look at the iPhone,” Kim says, “Would it have been the wild success that it is if Apple had decided that only they could provide apps for it and locked out all third party developers? What’s an iPhone without apps?” The question Kim is clearly asking is, What’s a performance car without aftermarket parts?

“I think Chrysler needs to recognize that the people who want to improve their car’s performance are not just customers,” Kim continues. “They’re Dodge’s best customers, the brand loyalists that know everything about the brand, love the brand, and don’t just love cars, they love Mopars.”

Dan Cragin, President of DC Performance, talked about how their performance Viper and late model Hemi customers won’t even consider driving a factory stock car—SRT or otherwise. “I’m in the position of having to tell my customers, look, I know you want the latest and greatest car, but I have to warn you, if you buy a new Viper or Hemi car, you can’t improve the performance, you can’t do heads and cam or a blower. Mopar is making me drive my best customers to a different brand, they aren’t going to settle for a stock SRT or just Mopar parts, they want their cars their way.”

We’re getting mixed messages here Chrysler. On the one hand, you sell the awesome, non-street legal Challenger Drag Pak, and the SRTs and R/Ts are great starting points for enthusiast owners. But you sell unlimited performance in one and now strictly limited-to-factory-specs performance in the others. On the one hand, you want to sell new cars, but the owner of a 1971 Challenger can buy all kinds of aftermarket parts for his old car, which generates no new car sales for Dodge. However, the enthusiast owner isn’t going to buy a new car that they can’t touch, you’re de-incentivizing them, you’re putting obstacles of your own creation in the path of their buying a new 2011 Challenger.

“People that buy Challengers, Chargers, SRTs, or Mustangs or Camaros for that matter, they’re in this car culture where their car is their hobby, their actual lifestyle,” Dan said. “They have to modify their cars, they have to make them fit their personality and style. If Dodge doesn’t let them modify their cars with this lock out thing, then I’m afraid the Ford and Chevy people are going to win them away from us and these good customers are going to switch brands. They may never come back after that. Dodge needs to be jumping on the bandwagon, not off it.”